Some mystery food purchased at a butchers evidently had MSG in it. Sleepless until after midnight, then at 01:30 the windows start flashing and the sky started booming, all quite close. Ended around 03:30, and got up at 07:30. Oog. During the MSG inspired sleeplessness, I couldn’t stop thinking about the dog and how little time I had to solidify our friendship. Maybe tomorrow night when we go back one last time to that restaurant.
From an email I sent this morning: “Suzanne went to mass this morning in Fiumelatte, and the old aunt was there (of course), and she grabbed Suzanne and introduced her to several other old women.” Even the fruit and vegetable seller in Varenna recognized her, pleased at her attempts to communicate in Italian. Big smiles were exchanged, and I could not help but contrast this with my own attempts to introduce my Duolingo French in France. Reactions have varied from wan forbearing smile to a look not dissimilar from disdain. In our conversations here we’ve come to learn the Italians are not overfond of the French.
T plus 5 days
Soporific day. Pleasant; not too hot. We walked to Varenna, bought round trip ferry tickets to Menaggio, them tootled across the lake. We were required to disembark and wait for a ferry back. It was 20 minutes late, at which point we were happy with our minor excursion, for a lengthier one – to Como, for example – would have been of an entirely unpredictable duration. We have a dinner reservation.
Francesca’s university teaching in September, which was to be in person, may not be, Massachusetts being the timid state it is, and conflating the delta covid numbers in Missouri and Arkansas with their own. Francesca is feeling very strongly that if this is the case, then she wants to teach most of September from Santa Margherita on the west coast of Italy. We have been there three times before. This would get us back in time for my oncologist appointment in midOctober. I need to check for how long the chip in our wifi pod is scheduled to work, but I think until midSeptember. I could always add a month.
Ordinarily this prospect might please me, but I have just got to the point of relaxing after our flight home was canceled, UK friends visit needing to be canceled, and trip plans needing to be frantically rearranged. I still have some PTSD, so adding a couple weeks to our trip would lead to more hectic planning, albeit without the tight deadline. Oh, I just today learned from our Milan host that Italy tightened entrance requirements on 29 July. We entered on 28 July, which he had forgotten. All the more reason for me to be chary of overstaying our welcome in this country.
So, remember the dog who poked me in the butt to make sure I was aware she was leaving. We saw her again in the square in Varenna today. I said hi, but the scene was somewhat hectic, and she only vaguely acknowledged my attention. But in the evening the whole group of five people and one dog were at the quiet restaurant again where we had first met. I said hi to her when they entered, and they had a table further away this time. The dog crawled under at one point to look at me, and to make sure I knew where she was. When we left I walked over and knelt on the ground in front of her. She was close to tears. I was close to tears. We’d known each other for such a short time, and this might be our last meeting. We said fond goodbyes, some good scratches being offered, fury heads nuzzling into nearby thighs. And then we had to leave. She watched us walk away down the sidewalk. I know this, because I kept looking back. It would have been socially irresponsible to return, but both she and I wanted that. Sigh.
T plus 6 days
Soporific again, but more so. We both had after breakfast naps, then started packing for departure tomorrow. Milano, next stop.
T plus 7 days
Leaving Fiumelatte fairly painless. At first it would have been hard to get lost. There was one snafu after the femmebot told me to take the 2nd exit at a roundabout, and I took the third. A quick u-turn and we were back on track. And then the track merged with a more main road, with millions of trucks, and some fun passing trucks in tunnels … I aged a couple of years, but c’est la vie.
Our place in Milan is quite nice, although practicality is given second place to design. The bedside table – quite artistic in a 19th century sort of way – is attached to the wall in such a way I cannot plug in the device with which I charge my devices. And evidently wastebaskets are a design faux pas. Still …
T plus 8 days
So, evidently lived in previously, this apartment has not been lived in since the bizarre design-focused renovation. It’s really cool and all, but many things you may be accustomed to working one way, they function differently; presumably the trusted past is bourgeois crap. Even the bed pillows compress too much to be comfortable. But they are chic. Fortunately, Francesca brought two smallish pillows with her, and adding one of those proletarian cushions on top of the one supplied suffices.
Oh, and the kitchen is filled with all new devices, including an untested countertop convection stove. It has touch sensitive controls, the idea being, I suspect, that actual knobs are passé, an embarrassment to one and all. So, yeah, Francesca cooked on this elegant device, and just short of completing the process of preparing dinner, it got all sulky and stopped working. This is now the morning after, and it’s still sulking. Oh for a knob to twist peevishly.
And to top all that, today my former inamorata is coming down from Basel to visit. And despite that romantic tie having finished 40 years ago, Francesca still finds her presence unsettling. But she is one of my valued collection of European friends, and, anyway … The fact that I am no longer physically capable of infidelity has no bearing on Francesca’s feelings. But we’ve all been together twice in past trips, and we have even been put up at the home of the Swiss miss, her husband, and two grown children. Should be ok. I’ll try not to be stupid.
… concluding with my favorite moment in all my years of travel. We shall be leaving to start our 2022 EU travels in a week, so this will be my last post until July. The dog will return. Please feel free to miss me.
Francesca’s first morning in Fiumelatte, as written by Francesca:
For today’s beginning entertainment… ….we have dawn!
I stood leaning out my window for 2 hours watching it all unfold. Just so pleasant.
Dark silhouettes of mountains across a pallet of soft shades of gray – gray water, gray sky – a world of shadows of boats.
Color growing slowly from the top down as sun finally lights the peaks, then more and more like a honey of light and color seeping down the mountains.
The bird chatter greeted the day.
And a drama unfolding beneath my window. There was a family with 4 baby diving ducks on the stone pier that lead into the wee harbor next to the house. There was a fluffy pile – huddled, nestled, occasional jostling …. that later resolved into 4 fluffy babies. The jostling nudging and rearranging increased. Finally one stretched up and clapped tiny wings. And another got rambunctious and had a little dip before the rest. Not sure the watchful mother was thrilled with that! And then after they were all up mama and the rest slipped off the end into the water and went off for breakfast.
I watched the adult males of the species – deep shiny black with bright white bills – dive deep and long periods. (Correction after the fact: there were no males; the black birds were coots.)
2 swans went by.
Swallows danced through the air.
At 7 the bell tower in the next town sounded to wake the rest of the world.
And all the while the gentle lapping of the lake against the stones beneath my window. All night long actually, on the stones….every time I was awake it was just such a lovely sound.
This is nice. Achingly nice.
I just stood leaning on a bar out the window in my light flower night gown…and somehow hours slipped by.
T plus 3 days
Whether illness, making up for pre-trip stress, or just how soporific this place is, what with the warmish temps, and the lapping of Lake Como waters below our windows, but I sleep a lot here, dead to the world. Pasta may contribute to this problem, if problem it be.
“At least 125,000 fully vaccinated Americans have tested positive for Covid”. Maybe covid is making me sleepy.
Ah, so, at last, weather.com having predicted lightning for the last 48 hours, it finally arrived, with some hail, much booming, and totally obscuring the mountains across the lake. Weather.com, knowing this is summer, and these are the southern Alps, probably knew they’d be right at some point, so felt safe in their forecast. Before the trip I was expecting to be daily entertained by storms of this ilk. We have 3 more days. There’s no telling if there will be further episodes, but the dice that weather.com use to make predictions suggest there will be. Below is the calm after.
Ok – and this is important, so please focus. We travel with kindles, and I’d bought parts 1 and 2 of a thriller before departing. I started one yesterday, and quickly realized I had utterly no interest in terrorism, WMDs, and Islamic fanatics of any sort. I stopped reading. (I must say, now I think on it, my interest in this thriller genre faded to zero quite a while ago, and I just never noticed until confronted with more of same.) Ok, so, for many years now Francesca has been enhancing her travels by reading Brunetti mysteries by Donna Leon. She would occasionally share some humorous bit, wry, insightful, and … Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, why am I reading about chemical weapons in Syria and Pakistan, when I could be basking in literary genius taking place in Venice. And literary genius it is, on a par with P.G. Wodehouse. I say this with utter confidence, although only 20% through the first of the mysteries. Francesca is reading the 15th, and the bits she shares are brilliant. I am saddened that I may not live long enough to read them all. But the book’s pompous maestro is dead, and we don’t know whodunnit, so, ciao.
Some advice, for those with nontoxic personalities, possessed of a modicum of joie de vivre, and content. Fiumelatte is small. Paolo, who – along with Sabrina – let us in to the apartment, he said at one point that everyone knew everyone in the area. They know the woman that greets us at the perfect little restaurant across the street; they knew the taxi driver who brought us and our groceries home today; and we have met their great (great?) aunt, more than once, and the lady in the restaurant said she’s the oldest lady in town. I told the restaurant lady that on first meeting her in the presence of Paolo and Sabrina, and learning the aunt’s age, I looked at the aunt up in her window, pointed to my chest, and said, “due cento”, indicating I was more than double her age. Her reaction was priceless and wonderful. She made an ohohoh kind of noise, and made that hand gesture with the right hand waving up and down vertically, indicating (in an Italian way) more than doubt, and suggesting even I may be lying a bit. Everyone laughed, and the aunt with word and gesture indicated I must exercise a lot.
Francesca is going to mass tomorrow with the restaurant lady, and probably many other people we’ve met. (The restaurant lady and the elderly aunt, go to market together on one of the infrequent buses that go to a much bigger town.) These moments of being included – tied into – a small group of local people, accepted temporarily, these moments are priceless to us.
Varenna, the larger town a 20 minute walk to the north, is scenic, and it has sights worth seeing, but it is filled with Germans and Dutch, and people even less savory, and the cultural noise of their density subdues any chance that they will have of meaningful interactions with local culture, which they in any case might fail to recognize or approve of. The locals try to stay polite, but understandably sometimes fail. It reminds me of our visit to Lake Lugano a few years ago, in an Italian Swiss region. These Swiss Italians were more formal than the Italian Italians to the south, but in a restaurant there the German Swiss seated near us were rude and dismissive of the Swiss Italians serving them. I had to grit my teeth to avoid pushing the German Swiss into the lake.
Let’s end on a positive note. At dinner tonight there was a table of mostly Italians, and one dog. I patted the dog when they came in, but she was tentative, and the lady with the leash put the dog under the table for the duration. When they got up to leave my back was to them, but Francesca could see the dog stand up and look in our direction. Francesca beamed approvingly, and the dog moved closer and pushed her nose into my butt. The leash lady was initially concerned, but relaxed when the dog and I bid a fond adieu to each other, the dog leaning warmly into my arm, the hand of which was scratching her neck and ears. I guess that explains in part why I am prone to seek out canines in our beach walks at home in New Hampshire. We have no Italian style cohesive culture in America, but dogs come close at times. So, anyway, buona notte.
PW had a recent article about supersymmetry theorists who refuse to concede that the idea is ill-conceived. I call it stupid, but that’s just me. Still, SUSY, although dead, continues to walk about like some sort of zombie theory eager to eat the brains of a new generation. In grad school my advisor, who once suggested I had a hotline to god, bless his soul, recognized it might prove interesting to just leave me alone to pursue my own weird ways. He and Marc Grisaru were dabbling eagerly in SUSY at the time, and Marc was so enamored with it, that my resistance to getting involved caused him much chagrin. He wanted me kicked out of grad school. He took steps to make it so. Sadly they failed.
Anyway, I get my PhD, postdoc for a bit, and am occasionally at a loose end. During one of these I earned my living working in a bookstore. While so engaged I ran into Marc in Harvard Square, a place in Massachusetts. He asked me what I was doing. I told him. He shook his head, and, sort of as an aside, said, “What a waste.”
And here we are some 40 years later. I’m still waiting for the world of theoretical physics to catch up with my ideas, and the ideas to which Marc surrendered himself for decades is now still walking around, but with no beating heart, one eyeball missing, and some bone visible beneath the fetid flesh. What a waste.
2021 Travels, Departure
The airlines, unable to cancel every plane, allow us finally to depart.
T minus 0 days
This morning I received an email from the Vogons at BA that they needed me to resend covid testing docs as my initial send confused them. Likely my fault, as I sent my and Francesca’s document pdfs together, causing their bureaucratic neurons to misfire. So I sent just mine – again – and just the test result and scan of proof of vaccination. I was delightfully surprised when 5 minutes later I got an email giving me a green light. Thunderbirds are go.
Meanwhile, five plus days of ceaseless effort to get our obstreperous ducks in a row has left me feeling unwell. Had a slight fever this morning, but hoping this will abate once everything is done. And everything seems to be done, actually. Boarding passes for BOS to LHR, and LHR to LIN (tomorrow), have been issued and printed. I will shower and shave an hour before departure.
It should be mentioned, if it has not already been, that we travel business or first class only. I’m too old to sit up for hours at a stretch, and I always buy tickets months in advance to get deals. And I’m dying, albeit slowly at the moment. My ten years working for Fidelity Investments left me with enough savings to easily last the rest of my life, so, what the hell. First class on this trip, which means free pajamas. Yay.
Now at Logan. BA first class lounge closed. Every other airline lounge is open, but not BA’s. And, insult to injury, my favorite travel trousers, 3 pair, no longer fit. This is likely a consequence of the cancer, and the hormone treatment that is keeping it at bay. (A known side effect is an accumulation of fat around the midsection.) Yeah, well, at least I’m alive, although no longer using my fourth belt loop.
T plus 1 day
Although I will not supply details, my impression, after the fact, of the covid inspired hoops to be leapt through at Heathrow was of frequent anal probes through all of the body’s orifices, and if that makes little sense, then you underestimate both the British, and the Vogons at Heathrow. Still, the 1st class BA lounge at Heathrow was open, and nice – the terrace room especially so. Next step, board flight to Italy. What horrors await us there?
No horrors, although we did not at first know this. And I would trade all of that 1st class lounge stuff at LHR had the Heathrow Vogons been as relaxed as the Italian customs when we arrived in Milan. Full of trepidation, in the 30 minutes leading up to our turn with a customs official, Francesca and I gathered every piece of paper we thought would expedite the process of allowing us into Italy. In the end, after a 30 minute nervous wait in line, we handed a guy a wad of paper each, and – or so it seems to me (this is just an impression) – he said, “Oh, si, paper. Grazie. Ciao.” And suddenly we were through and into Italy proper. Stunned. Moderately stunned.
A nice old taxi driver took us to our hotel, muttering frequently about Mother Mary and Luna, possibly in response to my suggestion that he was taking us in the wrong direction. And he was, according to the femmebot google maps, but weirdly you had to go a way wrong a fair distance to go eventually right.
You know, I had a feeling things would be easier getting into Italy. If you want to understand why, go watch Izzy Eddard’s hilarious take on the Italians becoming fascist prior to WWII.
T plus 2 days
First night in hotel at Linate airport in Milan, I drenched several cloth items with perspiration, following a bout of chills. Diminished covid variant (vaccinated: J&J)? My deeper disease? Inevitable effect of struggle to arrive in EU? Remember the perspiration floods that knocked me out in France a few years ago? Anyway …
Our drive to Fiumelatte took two hours instead of one because femmebot was on a mysterious break, and we had trouble using our rented VW’s navigation system. As the car originated in France, the system text was in French. I kept following signs to Como, which got us closer to George Clooney than Fiumelatte. She (femmebot – google maps female voice) finally came back once we wormed our way to Fiumelatte, and our Airbnb hosts, on the watch for a silver/grey VW containing two lost Americans, waved us down and, yeah. Femmebot really wasn’t the issue. Our on-the-go wifi pod didn’t get working until I got thoroughly lost. Francesca berated me for not trusting the navigation system. But I saw it wanted me to go south, and I wanted to go north. It was trying to get us unlost, and I stubbornly ignored both it, and Francesca. In extenuation I will just say I was exhausted. Brain said north, go north. Ah well.
As to Fiumelatte, Francesca, as is her wont, assumed the town could be meandered and shopped, transferring memories of past locales, where this was in fact true, into her hopes and assumptions for this spot. Unfortunately, Fiumelatte is really just the base of a very high cliff, with room enough for some dwellings, a restaurant or two, a sidewalk area (along a road busy with Italians and tourists) varying in width from 6 inches to 2 – rarely 3 – feet (the sidewalk, that is; the road is frequently wider). Exciting, but not suitable for passeggiata.
Fortunately, a not unpleasant 20 minute walk to the north is the bigger town of Varenna, and while brimming with blonder, taller, and frequently annoying folk from northern Europe, it is pleasant, has scenic places to meander, and shops. There are botanical gardens that we will get to, weather permitting (we did not). And it may not. But that’s ok; I’m still recovering from pre-trip schedule changing traumas.
As to Fiumelatte … well, was I lying?
Neither of us are fans of the American pharmaceutical/medical industries, but we are now both deeply in their power, a thing that we would have found anathema and outlandish just two years ago. But Francesca now takes a battery of pills daily to help control an autoimmune condition affecting her thyroid; and I take a slew of pills to keep my cancer at bay and to reinforce bone density. Ok, so, it must be added that Francesca combined her Harvard PhD, with massive reading on the subject, to largely put together her own therapy, our GP being less than useless. Francesca’s therapy has worked extremely well, perplexing our GP, who may have stopped keeping up with medical advancements since leaving med school – if not earlier. But another medical professional she sees was deeply impressed. So, ok, ok, we both take prescription medications, and we both – we thought – acquired sufficient doses prior to flying overseas to cover our 4.5 week trip, and then some. But in Francesca’s case the pharmacy screwed up, and she had close to a week’s shortage.
Let’s get to the point. Our first day in Fiumelatte we walk to Varenna, spot a farmacia; we go in (masked; the rules here stricter than in SE NH), and she shows them her prescription bottle, indicating by word (Italian words) and gesture that she needs more. Pharmacist says not today, but he’ll order for tomorrow. She pays then, gets a receipt for a tenth the cost of same medication in USA, and no prescription necessary. Do you have any idea how aggravating … You know, a worry wart friend of mine suggested medical insurance for our trip. I sent him back a link to an online story of a similar case of an American in Europe needing medical care and paying a small fraction for it compared to the expected price in the states. My friend replied, ah, I see, and did not press the matter.
(During the rest of the trip Francesca acquired enough additional doses to see her to next Spring, all at a tenth the USA Big Pharm price. Assholes.)
Years – nay, decades ago – when my stupid hormones caused me to spend lots of time in Switzerland, through a friend of my then inamorata I heard a song in Italian that I found very lovely – enchanting even. I learned the song by heart, without understanding – or at least thinking about – its meaning. I never forgot.
I wrote this email to Swiss friends who were responsible for me learning this Italian song: “Yesterday we walked home to Fiumelatte from Varenna and met the couple who let us into the apartment we are renting. They were standing outside a home looking up at their 96 year old great great aunt who was leaning out a window to chat. We stopped, Francesca used some of her Italian, and I mentioned I knew a song in Italian. I sang: tu sei la mia vita … The young wife, Sabrina, said that was a religious song, and I explained that I did not realize that at first; I just liked the tune. But later, when I thought about the lyrics, I realized it was religious. Then Sabrina and I sang a few lines together to the old lady in the window. It was very pleasant.”
We’re now in bed, this being the end of our first day of actual vacation during the 2020/2021 plague years.
Oops … is it Santa? Jumped to the window, threw up the sash, to discover Varenna was having a post 22:00 o’clock fireworks display visible from our window. We do not know why. I was just in the process of inserting earplugs to silence the snores of she who will remain nameless. Nice fireworks. Maybe a Friday evening tradition. A domani.
The New York Times Sunday Magazine recently had an article about billionaire Nicolas Berggruen’s effort to set up an Institute to promote modern philosophical thinkers, with a slant to the pragmatic and effectual. Some words drawn from the article:
“… [a] philosopher whose work has been supported by the Berggruen Institute, suggests that Berggruen might best be thought of as a kind of latter-day Medici. … the Medici analogy has something to it. The history of Western culture is, to some extent, the story of rich people underwriting artists, musicians and thinkers. Patronage, Edmund Burke declared, is ‘the tribute which opulence owes to genius.’ Yet it’s also a demonstration of the influence that flows from wealth. That was certainly true of the Medicis, and it is no less true of Berggruen: His ability to pull scholars, former statesmen and fellow tycoons into his orbit is testament to the convening power of money.”
The Medicis, in particular, supported Leonardo Da Vinci. Provided by his patrons with a comfortable living, he was then allowed to apply his genius, without significant interference, to stuff. Whatever. This patron/genius model is good. One could argue, I suggest without supporting evidence, that the Renaissance may not have happened without some support from the über wealthy 1% of that time.
However, that’s not my point. My point is that the Renaissance may also not have happened had the patrons stuck their noses in everything the geniuses were doing.
And so we come to yet another recent story of a young person (13) who is scheduled to enter university to study physics. This kid doesn’t have a chance. Da Vinci had a hands-off patron, not an intrusive director. This kid, on the other hand, is going to be surrounded by tired old academics who will be anything but hands-off. His chances of producing groundbreaking works that disrupt tired old ideas will be small. Yeah.
Travelogue of 2021 European Plague Trip Part 2
This is an account of the travails of trying to travel during a time the world is trying to relax, but failing to do so.
(What is written below is a kind of diary, beginning about a week before the trip, ending after the return. It’s a very different narrative than I presented in previous memoirs … you know the ones … right?)
All right. Good. With the plague winding down (well, the CDC graphs at the time gave me this impression, since proved fallacious) we decided to risk Portugal, France, Italy, and the UK, at the end of the summer. I felt that the international covid alarm would have abated by that point to make this possible. Portugal was to have been the first part of it, and it was included because good friends – a family of four – would be there at that time, and a jolly reunion … well, maybe not too jolly, as the mother of this family had lost her father to covid recently, and her mother, who lives in Portugal, would be there surrounded by family. I thought at times that this was not an ideal time for Francesca and myself to intrude. We liked both of her parents very much, but our presence was unneeded. In the end BA took Portugal out of the equation entirely. It canceled our flight to Porto from London, and in fact it seems they canceled all flights to Porto out of an excess of concern re a resurgence of covid cases in that country. We could have flown to Lisbon, perhaps, but we ran the risk that no one else in the EU would let us in from Portugal. So we canceled our Porto Airbnb (2 blocks from the beach … sniff), and all our Portugal plans. We got tickets on BA to Milan instead, from Heathrow (LHR) the same day we were to arrive in London from Boston (BOS). We’d intended to head to Milan anyway after Porto (so I had to cancel the Porto to Milan flight), but now we were arriving in Italy a week too soon. Lake Como was nearby, so I got us an Airbnb on its shores.
Arriving in Milan, we spent a night recuperating at a hotel near the Milan airport. The morning after we planned to pick up a rental car, drive to Lake Como, then later back to Milan. (Switching tenses, as most of this was written at the time.) After a few days in Milan we are driving west to Aosta, Annecy, Lyon. Then TGV to Paris. Cafe time! And finally back to London for a few days to visit friends. Then home.
So many things could go wrong. (So many things did.) Francesca and I have medication needs that will keep us on pins and needles every day. We’re vaccinated, and expect no problems covid-wise as a result, but reality may choose to mess with our expectations. And the French may choose to do that grève thing they are so fond of, and which caused us in the past to get creative with travel plans (as outlined in my last travel memoir). The weather looks to be ok. In 2016 we were in Paris during the big flood, and in 2018 a European heatwave caused us to change plans and flee to Chamonix in the Alps. I’m hoping such flexibility is not required this time.
We leave in 10 days, and arrive in 11. There are pins, and occasionally needles.
T minus 7 days
The covid delta variant is causing cases of heebie jeebies among fraught peoples around the world. Still, we may pull it off.
T minus 5 days: Cancellations
Email I just sent to friends and family: “BA flight home canceled. Next available flight that was able to seat both of us (in our chosen class), AND didn’t have a stopover in LA, was August 30, 11:15am. We are now booked on that, until it too is canceled.” This would get us home three days later than originally planned.
This is the second canceled flight. The first cancellation caused us to replace friends in Portugal with no friends on Lake Como. Meanwhile, amuse yourself by guessing, on a scale from 0 to 0.000007, how confident I am that there will be no more glitches in the Matrix. I’ll check back later and collect your guesses.
Oops, sorry, three canceled flights. Our flight BOS to LHR had to change by a couple of hours. Am I nervous? Three flights canceled. Three new flights left. And one flight canceled by me, replaced by another. I confess I am experiencing some unease.
T minus 4 days
UK being pissy, even to the point of threatening 10 day quarantine. As our stay in London was intended to be for 6 days, spending 10 days of that in quarantine seems likely to be a game changer – if I’ve done the math correctly. (It is now 6 weeks after our return, and according to recent data the rate of infection in the UK is presently much higher than the USA. And they were afraid of us?)
France and Italy have no such restrictions, so we might extend Paris, fly BA from there to LHR, stay a couple of nights there before flight home, now 3 days later on 30 August because 27 August flight canceled – the third cancellation so far.
You know, part of the point of this memoir is to document the travails involved in traveling during covid years. So far covid has been doing a great job of providing material. Of course, the more material it supplies, the worse it is for us. But, after all, there’s that death sentence thing hanging over my head like a particularly unpleasant Dementor, so, uh, half speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes.
Evening. London portion of trip canceled. Too much fear and trepidation, and a threat of quarantine. London’s charms are meager in our view, so without the option of spending time with friends, I mean, really.
T minus 3 days
8am. Already exhausted trying to synch our new travel plans. Anal Parisians kindly allowed change to our Rue Cler Airbnb. Doubtless the addition of two extra days, très cher, helped motivate their decision. I remained cordial throughout. (Indeed, Lyon hotel was also only too glad to add 3 extra nights. Woof.) The cancellation of a week in London has led to these extensions at other stops. Juggling … forever juggling. Throw in a mime, and the experience would be perfect. And who doesn’t love a good mime?
T minus 2 days
Recently a British politician suggested it was time for the citizens of GB to stop cowering (a behavior evidently prevalent out of fear of the latest covid mutation Deathstar, or whatever it’s called). Sufficiently many citizens felt the politician’s statement was a gross violation of their safe spaces that he was forced to recant. He didn’t really, except to apologize, and to suggest the wording of his statement was unfortunate. (Suggesting they were wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beasties may have been less offensive. He should have led with that.)
So, they’re (UK) out of the EU, and now many regret that. And the English team lost to Italy in that big soccer match, denting their national pride significantly. Exacerbating this was the fact that the citizenry of no country other than England wanted England to win (Wales and Scotland may have been teetering, but I doubt it very much). And the UK covid restrictions are the tightest in western Europe. One might almost say, yes, they are cow’rin, like wee sleekit tim’rous beasties. It is widely acknowledged that they have sticks up their butts, a trait that becomes all the more unattractive when mixed with the cowering, which causes the sticks to protrude in a most unattractive manner.
Our decision to fly BA was made on the assumption we would spend several days in London at the tale end of our trip visiting friends we have not seen in a few years. The cowering put the kibosh on that (we still plan two nights at a Heathrow Hilton before returning home, primarily to provide a buffer against the irrational vicissitudes of BA scheduling). So, there no longer being any need to fly BA, it is extremely unfortunate that we need to stop in London at all. Were it any longer financially viable, we’d discard all BA flights, and go 100% AirFrance. And yes, they did once cancel a flight on us, but they have the extenuating circumstance of being French. Still, BA never made us anywhere near as happy, once onboard, as has AirFrance each and every time we fly with them.
So, anyway, in two days we are set to fly BOS to LHR, then later that same day LHR to LIN (Milan). As we needn’t go through customs, while not exactly optimistic, we suspect things may go as planned. And then this morning, when I checked the status of those two flights, my BA app informed me that the Milan flight was delayed. I decided I had better check Alitalia, and discovered that if our BA Milan flight died horribly, Alitalia could easily come to the rescue. (Huge irony: near the end of our trip Alitalia announced bankruptcy and would cease to be an airline in future. Postscript: at the time Francesca (half Italian) suggested that Alitalia would not stay dead. Yesterday, over 7 weeks since our return, Alitalia rose Phoenix-like from its ashes. I’m thinking this is how Italians do restructuring. I’m always telling Francesca, when she starts cursing when one of her electronic devices misbehaves, to just reboot. That’s how Italians handle troubled businesses; they reboot, thereby cleansing the system of vested interests and outdated gadgetry that gum up the works.)
You know, more and more I begin to suspect the internet is gaining consciousness, and fucking with certain people gives it a digital version of pleasure. In support of that conjecture I offer the following: 15 minutes after I checked if Alitalia could fly us LHR to LIN, I checked the BA flight again, and it was now listed as On Time. You see what I mean? Anyway, I’m just sayin’.
Just a short time ago I sent the following regretful email to one of our London friends: “We have decided – life being of an unknown limited duration – we will never again set foot in the UK, nor ever again fly BA. We just heard that relatives of a friend flew to Germany with not a single bit of fuss. We may never see each other again, but there’s always email.” I added this picture from the planned animation series based on Blade Runner. So chuffed.
T minus 1 day
Finally got our UK Locator forms done. Awaiting covid test results so we can complete the lengthy spirit draining process. First 2 weeks in EU look to be rainy. French and Italians have just passed legislation prohibiting bunches of stuff to those not vaccinated. In France, just the threat of this legislation led to the usual burning of tires on the streets of major cities. Not sure about Italy. Italy is not France. They’re more likely to just ignore the legislation. I am hoping our American vaccination cards will get us into cafes and restaurants in France, else we may starve. Coming home an emaciated corpse will not reflect well on their tourist industry. Rain in Boston when leaving; rain in London upon arrival, and when leaving for Milan; rain in Milan upon arrival. Some of the rain may be electrical. @#&%^ x 10.
Yeah, so I’m learning French with Duolingo. For years, actually. And when not doing that, I occasionally have half an eye on the death throes of theoretical physics. As I am presently ill with a nasty cold (covid ruled out), and feel grumpy as hell, I submitted a comment to one of my favorite blogs. It was unfair, curmudgeonly, and …
“The almost magical nature of the mathematics of lattices in 1,2,8,24 dimensions, and the parallelizable spheres in 1,2 4,8 dimensions – this is the future. Not endless circular discussions on how best to think about QFT, or whether ABC is proven or not. You are complicit in keeping physics stuck in an earlier century.”
As has been my habit since retiring, my wife and I have traveled to EU annually (2020 perforce an exception), and then I would write up our experiences and self publish the results with Kindle Direct Publishing. Naturally no one but friends ever bothers to purchase these marvelous travelogues, so I’ve decided to publish the next one here, in installments. And herewith, part 1:
After I retired, my wife (pseudonym, Francesca) and I got in the habit of popping over to the EU for a few weeks each Spring. In the months before – as early as November or December of the prior year – I’d start looking for airline deals that would enable me to travel prone instead of sitting upright. I’m retired = not young. And I am tall, and lanky. Six or more hours in a conventional airplane seat causes every joint in my body to rebel. They burn tires in my arteries in protest, and demonstrate their displeasure in many other unpleasant ways. If you can fix your travel dates early enough, thousands can be saved.
We took these trips in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. We time things so we’re overseas in May/June. Anyway, along comes December 2019, and I start thinking I should check BA or AirFrance for deals for our 2020 trip. But I do not. I cannot tell you why not, but I hesitated. In January I do not again, nor in February. In March it becomes apparent why I hesitated: my spidey senses knew it would be pointless. Well, maybe not spidey senses, but I do wonder why I felt zero urgency. By the end of March, 2020, covid had become an international cause for concern, and people in the EU began dying at alarming rates, and the whole continent began locking doors and closing shops. Foreign visitors were no longer welcome. Quarantined Italians would be singing to each other from windows, and far too many would not survive.
Well, we had no interest in exceptions being made for Francesca and myself, and besides, we had Canada as a fallback alternative. And then we didn’t. Canada closed its borders to nonessential travelers. Frivolous travelers were also excluded, so we would be spending the spring at home; then the summer, and the fall, winter, and yet another spring.
In early March, 2020, just as all this stuff was hitting the fan, Francesca and I spent a couple days in Boston, had lunch at our favorite restaurant with my sister and her husband. And I possibly contracted covid. I’m not sure – I will never be sure. All I know is that by May I had some sort of unpleasant gastrointestinal distress, periodic fever, and this lasted about 3 weeks. Not all covid infections attack the lungs. Some are GI, and as I never felt the need to consult a doctor, no tests were run. Still, I mention this because …
By July I was having more distressing things happening in my nether regions – disturbing things that required action – competent action. I decided to bypass all local GPs and I contacted MGH in Boston directly and made an appointment with a urologist there. Ok, well, yeah, heavy fucking sigh … so two weeks later:
1. I knew I had stage 4 incurable prostate cancer.
2. Hormone therapy was suggested, using a drug to chemically castrate me, as the cancer requires testosterone, and the testes produce the majority of that.
3. However, I was 71 at the time, I was tired of leading my life partly under control of sex hormones, making me a slave of my DNA – a robot. And I had a golf ball sized spermatocele cyst down there that was aggravating as hell. So I told them to skip the drugs and just take the offending organs, and the cyst, and turn me from a puppet to a real boy. I was unaware when making this decision that it was very much cheaper than the chemical route, with none of the chemical side effects.
4. My urologist, when I told him and the oncologist my decision, said, “How about tomorrow?”
5. Well, I had to spend a day having tests run, and the day after that it was done. In short order my PSA (a measure of prostate health; it should be under 4 … I forget the units) dropped from 1550 to 4.87, then shortly after that to a little over 1. Now, that didn’t mean my prostate was healthy – it wasn’t; it still was cancerous, and that cancer had still spread to my bones. At this point the PSA was just a measure of how much under control the cancer was. If you’re interested, look it up. It is related to testosterone, and the cancer can’t grow without that hormone.
6. To further diminish my body’s ability to generate testosterone I will spend my remaining days popping pills daily to suppress the adrenal gland’s testosterone factory. With the help of these my PSA dropped to “undetectable”. And 3 months after that it was still undetectable. I’d really like for it to stay that way. It’s now September, 2021. Next month I’ll find out when I go back to MGH for my periodic blood draw and oncologist meeting. I’m part of a study now, so I’m hoping that there are more people than just myself with a vested interest in the efficacy of my therapy. Yay science.
7. And so we get to early 2021, the year 2020 having proven disappointing in so many ways. No Italy; No France; And a Death Sentence. Fuck fuck fuchsia.
I am a different person now, in some ways – an MCU Watcher. This is a comic character that I first encountered when the Silver Surfer was first introduced. Yeah, and anyway, the big baddie Galactus was about to render the earth uninhabitable, and although The Watcher could have done something about it, I recall he either didn’t interfere … well, I think he didn’t, and his excuse was that he just watches. He is separate from the milieu of organic life’s struggles throughout the universe. See where I’m going with this? I’m no longer a being whose primary purpose is the production of the materials of procreation. And while I’m still aware that the vast bulk of humanity do have this purpose, and its effects can be seen in nearly everything they do, I am now separate – a Watcher. This experience is weird, fascinating, occasionally very disturbing, and liberating. On forms that require me to specify what gender or sexual orientation I identify with, if there’s no option for “None of the above”, well, I’m at a loss.
I have not lost empathy; most of who I was is still there, and, like feeling a vestigial limb, I have the occasional dream of sexual encounters. I mean, during an actual sex act, specific parts of our brains are activated. Those parts were not excised along with the ignition keys, and it is not surprising that the stray electron or two might run through that portion of my brain from time to time. These dreams are all heterosexual male, so until that changes I guess I’ll keep on selecting “Male” on those forms, with pronouns to suit.
By the way, for anyone similarly afflicted, and considering taking the direct root (removal of testes), I would ask yourselves some questions first. It has a psychological effect, and let’s face it, the average heterosexual male spends their lives being motivated by a never ceasing need for sexual release. Our whole civilization is built around this need, and the concomitant female response needs. I am to some extent autistic, and I have an active internal life that is distinct from those around me. It does not involve other people. I was counting on this to help me adapt. Still, at times, I feel at a loss. Replacing hormonal motivations with something internal, it can be tough. The things that used to give me joy – like Francesca, and dogs – they still do, and I use Francesca and dogs and other stuff to provide some solid ground upon which to stand, and, more importantly, move – to overcome inertia. I haven’t a clue how different things would be had I taken the chemical root. Well, it would have been much more expensive, and involved many more side effects … for years. But, I mean, in other respects the end result is the same, isn’t it? I don’t really know. What’s the difference between hiding the ignition keys, and destroying them outright. Still, male egos being what they are, … yeah, so. Enough.
Ok, that is all just context. It’s the Dark Enemy hovering above me for the rest of my life, although at present the hormone therapy is sheltering me fairly well.
(Speaking of empathy, my emotions have always churned whenever I encountered a story about childhood cancer. Now that churning is vastly more personal. I want to reach out and help, and although largely impotent to do so, something prayer-like occurs in my mind each time.
And then there are things like something I encountered on Reddit recently. Some time ago someone posted a picture … of something … with the message: “The cancer won.” Someone else reposted that with the message: “His last post was 9 years ago.” That sort of thing is very unsettling.)
So, as I get older my fear that I may not know what I’m talking about makes me increasingly uneasy. Ameliorating this potentially debilitating Angst is another mental attribute that decreases with age: my willingness to give a shit.
That being said, since the 1950s theoretical particle physics has been dominated by ever more elaborate refinements to QFT, and I would include string theory in that category. As a tool for theoretical advancement, analytical methods of this ilk are metaphorical machetes. Very efficacious at hacking through the jungle, and marginally useful in finding one’s way, for they occasionally smack into an obstruction (anomaly, infinity, prediction at odds with experimental data, rock), and in this way you divine a path through the bush that you hope is leading someplace refulgent, full of treasure and pristine first print comics from the early days of DC and Marvel. Still, at each rocky obstruction debates will inevitably ensue as to which direction from the rock should we continue our hacking. Should we choose the direction with maximal Naturalness (more of a philosophical notion than usefully theoretical), or some direction which has fewer attributes with which we are comfortable? Over the past 40+ years theoretical physics has, with few exceptions, chosen directions from obstructions that reinforced a way of thinking that was responsible for getting them lost in the first place.
Still, given my peculiar way of thinking, and the body of work I created over those same 40+ years, I will go to my grave wondering why these machete wielding theorists don’t just get a map. For example, back in the 1920s Dirac provided theoretical physics with a very powerful map. The mainstream couldn’t help but embrace his ideas, but then came QFT and all the comfortable analytical machete stuff, and back into the jungle we went. To hell with algebraic abstraction. And that’s too bad, for there is definitely a map forward in my own work, and in many ways it’s a vastly expanded version of Dirac’s. It’s pure mathematics – Ur-maths, not concocted – yet it requires neutrinos to be Dirac, with Dirac masses. It requires there be a mirror antimatter universe, linked to ours by … screw it. Read the fuchsia papers and books. And in support of the veracity of these notions, I submit that it may not be coincidental that Dirac and Dixon are both 5 letter family names beginning with “Di”. See? Are you convinced yet?
Anyway, fuck it. You can’t redirect a river that has spent decades digging itself into a mile deep canyon.
From my latest travel memoir (unfinished)
A thing I once found alarming was the Millennial and Zoomer habit of blaming on Boomers the world’s decline into post-apocalyptic yuckiness. And, yes, to be sure, Boomers had their hands on the tiller during this recent, noticeable period of global disintegration, but let’s look less shallowly at this fact before we go dooming a whole generation to hell.
During the 1960s a great many Boomers were hippies, in favor of peace and love and LSD. And they were vehemently against an older generation that seemed hellbent on sending them to their deaths in Southeast Asia for absolutely no good reason, other than it enriched the Military-Industrial Complex. Are these the Boomers at whom the Millennials and Zoomers are so ready to point the gnarly finger of blame. Well, no, not really.
See, most Boomers were not Flower Children. Most were on a spectrum from conventional and straight-laced, all the way up to psychopaths. And in every generation, without exception, it is mostly citizens on the psychopath end of the psychological spectrum who seek and achieve power and influence. So, you Zoomers may think you’re immune to this societal disease, and that voices of reason will gain power when your turn comes, but those voices of reason cannot compete with the psychopaths.
And this is especially true in nations eschewing democracy in favor of more oppressive forms of government. I mean, yes, Putin is a Boomer, but do you think he was ever a Flower Child? He’s more like some guy whose happiest moments were in high school (or, in this case, USSR KGB), and he’s holding on to those times, carousing with his buds, invading and bombing a neighboring country, because, shit, they did have a crazy good time in high school. Remember how Czechoslovakia and Hungary rolled over so easily? Good times; good times.
Please finish The Expanse while I’m still conscious
When I was 16 I remember being resistant to growing up. I wrote poems about being an elf in a tree larking about, doing my own thing, holding the society’s need to absorb me into the body with disdain. I was immature. And I am still immature, 57 years later. It’s not just a pose, in support of which I note that I recently encountered Babymetal videos (which can best be described as a Japanese anime version of the very serious legitimate Heavy Metal musical genre; Babymetal disbanded after 11+ years 4 months ago, and only the Fox God knows if and when they’ll be back … I’m just quoting here – don’t look at me like that), and I immediately thought, “Awesome!”. As to Heavy Metal itself, I have no use for it. It is dead serious and …
Yeah, so I go in for a lot of nerd stuff: games like Skyrim; movies like When Marnie Was There (my present obsession), and of course, the new Dune, over which I swooned each of the 10 (and counting) times I viewed it. But more to the point, a couple of months ago I also swooned over the steampunk animated series Arcane. The story was terrific, but the animation was MOMA worthy in every sense.
Ok, so we’re all familiar with The Expanse (if not, what the fuchsia are you even doing here). My wife and I loved the show, and when it was canceled (the first time) we were willing to give kudos to the billionaire who bought the rights and continued the series.
During this time a brilliant, spectral, former student of my wife, said I should read the books. But … but … there are 9 of them, each of them huge. Eventually I gave in, primarily because I realized I already owned book one, which had been collecting dust on my secondary (or tertiary) to be read shelf for a year or four. So, while still watching the TV series, I plodded into book one. Then I walked – quickly. Then I ran. Crikey, this book is really good, exceeding the show even. Long story short, I read all nine in a row, and am waiting for the additional book of material not incorporated into the original nine. And at the end of book nine, I fell into a deep awestruck coma from which I have not fully recovered. Holy crap, what an ending.
Each season of the show covered roughly a single book, and there were 6 seasons. Ok, let’s pause while you do the math. Got it? Right! The last 3 books have no concomitant TV seasons. The show just ended, and before what I consider the best of the books.
In extenuation, it has to be said that book 7 picks up the story 30 years after the material in books 1 to 6. So, if you’re going to be lazy, or out of money, then it’s a viable point at which to end the show. More so if you haven’t read all the books, 7, 8, and 9, in particular. But if you have, then ending the show with just 6 seasons really sucks.
Interestingly, season 6 includes extensive material from an Expanse novella, Strange Dogs, which is not part of the primary 9 books. This material stands at odds to, and has nothing to do with, the main plot of season 6, and as anyone who has read the last 3 books will tell you, there is only one reason Strange Dogs was incorporated into season 6: the writers assumed, hoped, or just prayed that there would eventually be seasons 7, 8, and 9.
Dixon to the rescue (again)
Animate the final 3 seasons. The animation style in Arcane would do very nicely, but there are a few other animated sci fi series out there with animation styles that would do as well. This solves the problem of aging the entire cast by 30 years. It allows for effects that would be difficult and costly in a CGI/live-action version. And for fuschia’s sake, bring Alex back. Just ignore the fact that they had to kill the character off because the actor let his fame sink to his nether regions. He’s important to the story. Surely there are other actors out there who can do a Martian southern drawl. And cartoon characters can’t sexually misbehave in real life, right? Just bring him back, and we’ll pretend none of that really uncomfortable Alex has a stroke and dies crud ever happened. It was stupid in every possible respect.
So, seasons 7,8,9 with Arcane style animation; the whole Strange Dogs subplot now has meaning; Alex is back; everyone is animated to look 30 years older; and … for fuchsia’s sake! Have you even read book 9? Just do this … and soon. I’m running out of time, and it would make me so happy.
So, Peter Woit’s blog has regained some of its old spark, albeit likely just temporarily. The efforts of the likes of David Gross (see PW’s link to DG being nasty and dismissive to nice guy, Carlo Rovelli), and Edward Witten, to embrace a picture of theoretical physics that obviates the need of younger generations to seek improvements on their work, or – heaven forfend – supplant that work with something better, is … Well, I sent a comment to PW (comment rejected, but, being a bad boy, I knew it would be):
“Much of this speaks to me of desperate needs to coalesce out of smoke vanishing dreams of leaving a legacy. Denial will work fine until – one by one – senescence renders their voices inaudible.”
Let’s talk about legacy. Well, you just sit there and be quiet; I’m going to talk about legacy.
That word – at least as it pertains to the relatively recent past in TP – conjures up names like: Einstein; Heisenberg; Schrödinger; Feynman. These theorists, and others like them, certainly left legacies, and they are well-deserved. But without exception they benefited greatly from powerful publicity machines extolling their virtues. And their technical achievements, while unintelligible to the laity, at least conjure up mental pictures many muggles can ooh and aah at: ooh, space is curved – cool; aah, there is a level of reality beneath what we can see and touch – awesome. Everybody is onboard.
But none of these theorists are even close to being my favorite. That would be someone with no measurable publicity machine in his lifetime, and who – unlike, for example, Feynman – was averse to self promotion. He was famously taciturn, more than a bit autistic, and his ideas – without which there would be no standard model (at least not as soon) – involve notions that muggles (including the press) found more than incomprehensible. No one – until Farmelo’s wonderful, posthumous, biography, The Strangest Man – thought there was a good story in this fellow. He wasn’t extravagant. His ideas were perplexing; they simply found no space to reside in the typical muggle’s cranium. Where’s the flair? How about some bongos? Or a violin? Are there some pithy quotes? “No.” (That’s an actual quote, and almost as good as it gets.) Anyway, you know who I mean: Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac.
His legacy is undiluted by popular acclaim and adoration. It rests almost completely on work that forms the backbone of modern theoretical physics.
I’ve recently read that much of his work was privately couched in terms of projective geometry, an area of mathematics unfamiliar to his peers, and that prior to presenting his results he would re-express his ideas in more touchy-feely analytical terms. His brain may have worked in a realm unfamiliar to said peers, but he knew how to translate his brain to be non threatening, and more familiar.
So, back to D Gross and E Witten. In surrendering to the multiverse and anthropic gunk, they are basically saying, physics stops with us, and they intend to throw youngsters, and future generations, under the bus, while creating a verisimilitude of legacy for themselves. I’m just guessing, but I suspect many of ces vieux pets would have found Dirac’s work unpalatable, his character uncomfortable, and, had they known how he truly thought, they would have resisted the inclusion of his oeuvre into mainstream thought.
I had another more verbose comment for PW’s blog, but decided against it:
“During my decades postdoc-ing and conferencing, I encountered more than a few instances of elder eminences presenting their latest ideas, assured that these often delusional notions would bring the focus of the klieg lights back to them. And that’s really what this is all about, isn’t it? It’s all about legacy. Gross and his ilk are seeing the possibility of a long lasting legacy turn to dust, and they’re scrambling to pull the dust back together. This is intellectual entropy. And no, 80 years from now their life’s work will not cohere. If anyone is still working on making sense of our universe at that time – and I personally consider that doubtful – they won’t be holding the failed ideas of the last 40 years in reverence. Well, unless of course they’ve become matters of theological faith.”
My 40+ years as a starving artist maverick theoretical physicist has been punctuated by synchronicities – three big ones in particular.
As a graduate student I attended a Harvard colloquium, given by a visiting professor from Yale, on the octonion algebra and color SU(3). Feza Gürsey was leading research into this connection at Yale. At the time I was already enamored with the quaternion algebra, and that colloquium sealed my fate.
It is curious – synchronous – that it should have happened when it did, for the enthusiasm for this idea at Yale was short lived, dying miserably under the onslaught of powerful mainstream voices for whom such abstract thinking was anathema. That colloquium at Harvard occurred at the peak of Yale’s participation in this subject. Not long thereafter, Feza, desperate to salvage his reputation as a respected Ivy League theorist, bowed to mainstream pressure, bitterly, and there would be no more colloquia on the subject stemming from Yale.
Why do I say bitterly? Because some few years thereafter I visited Feza at Yale, told him I had begun researches involving the octonions, and was roundly chewed out for my effrontery. His attitude was to me, of course, disappointing, but it had utterly no effect.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” Or in my case, not fortune, but rather addiction. Still, it has always struck me as curious how exactly “at the flood” I encountered this “tide”. That Harvard colloquium jumpstarted my researches into the Division Algebras, and I was no longer able to be dissuaded.
Meanwhile, and simultaneously, Lie groups had been shown to be not only successful, but unavoidable, and the mainstream began its pretty enthusiasm with GUTs, the first in a long series of post Standard Model attempts to cadge an invite to Stockholm.
The mainstream’s biggest brains poured their energies into this effort (getting an invite to Stockholm, that is; GUTs eventually succumbed to Nature’s intractable unwillingness to bend to the needs of humans) for 40+ years, beginning their efforts just as I was beginning mine. Synchronicity. Naturally, as rank outsider, working on applying abstract algebraic notions to HEP, my efforts languished, nourished only by my pathological obsessiveness. Did this rankle? Does the Pope do cosplay?
Meanwhile, the mainstream went into party mode, gleefully patting each other on their collective backs, replacing GUTs with supersymmetry, and – unable to restrain themselves – promoting string theory as the be-all and end-all … someday. And loops, and some other footnotes.
Meanwhile, after more than 40 years howling from the wilderness, I burned out. Fortunately this occurred not long after I officially retired and started collecting SS. And, as the Russian said in RED, “Time passes. When you get older things seem less important.” Indeed.
Simultaneously – the last synchronicity – the LHC was put on the stand and was unable to confirm or deny that the mainstream’s decades old group think was correct – or even on the right path. So, yes, it was unable to deny, and the diehards immediately began clamoring for more energy. Vindication was just around the corner. That the LHC could not confirm their theories was irrelevant. Who knows? Maybe they’re right.
But the blush was off the peach, and the world at large, who followed such matters, became disillusioned, and not just with noisy string theorists, but elementary particle theory in general. Science media began to drift more and more to quantum everything, and black holes. (A recent New Scientist cover boldly asked, “Does anything exist?” Fucking ‘ell. Maybe their readers were unaware of a century of pointless quantum interpretation debates.)
And the Boston Area Physics Calendar has drifted in a similar direction, dominated by hard physics talks and quantum stuff. Even “String Theory Seminar” series, established by many universities in the misty past to reinforce their bona fides, now use that slot for topics decidedly not stringy.
Still, the point of this screed is this: Is there associated with these synchronicities some semblance of cause and effect? And if so, given the general timeline, as I recollect it, is the fate of mainstream physics tied to mine? Specifically, did mainstream HEP die because I lost interest in promoting my own ideas, and ceased all work in the field?
Well, it pleases me to think this connection exists, for my next big existential event is likely to be my death of cancer, and while the disease is presently being held at bay, DOOM, I am assured, is inevitable. Someday. Thinking that my fortunes are entangled with the HEP mainstream ameliorates this dark mass over my head. Perhaps their DOOM will follow closely on my own. How this will be manifested is unclear, but that it will be … ooh, that’s a pretty cloud.
There are two broad categories of mathematics: concocted; and fundamental. Concocted mathematics helps with the “how” of physics. Fundamental mathematics can give us the “why”.
Most of fundamental mathematics arises from the two finite series of integers: 1,2,4,8; 1,2,8,24.
The starting point of the first series is the set of parallelizable spheres; the second intersects with modular forms, Fourier transforms, and laminated lattices … at a minimum.
Sour old hamsters would advise you to ignore these quarter baked ideas, if you want a job in academia. And since they are in control, you would be unwise to ignore them. And on your deathbeds you will possibly – at best – be able to say: “I had a job.”
So, if science media had a plethora of exciting articles about theories that Bigfoot is alive and well and lives in a cavern 43.14 miles beneath Paris, would you be inclined to read them? If so, well, that puts a damper on the point of this Gedanken experiment. But read on, if you care to.
The point is, do you get excited by vaguely scientific stories the bona fides of which are likely beyond convincing verification now, and for the rest of human history? For example, anything regarding black holes a la Einstein, with maybe a smattering of QM kludged in. And speaking of kludges, almost anything regarding the foundations of QFT, itself a kludge.
For example, I encountered this a few days ago: “An Entire Swarm of Black Holes Has Been Caught Moving Through The Milky Way”. Well, yikes. There is no room for doubt in that title. And yet, I wondered, if true, how could we possibly know that? We have just barely the technology to capture a picture of a reddish area around a black smudge, and claim it is a black hole, all the while having only the vaguest of ideas what that really means. And speaking of means, by what means have we “caught” a swarm of black holes moving through anything? Well, unsurprisingly, we have not. It is yellow journalistic conjecture – blatant clickbait, florid and sensational.
Had the story been about a swarm of Bigfoots I should likely have read past the first sentence, finding entertainment in how the story justified its central premise. But black holes? Much of our work in this area is tantamount to attempting to make a computer chip with a hammer and screwdriver, for we are comfortable with such tools, and are hesitant to admit that these tools, which have got us so far, may not be adequate to get us any further.
Recently PW’s blog informed me that the greatest minds in theoretical physics continue to gather and confabulate about the sorry state of this science. PW quoted LM, who was quoting some bigwig at Princeton:
“…Millennials are a generation that prefers to hide in a herd of stupid sheep and remain at the surface that is increasingly superficial…
“So most of the stuff that is done in ‘quantum information within quantum gravity’ is just the work of mediocre people who want to keep their entitlements but who don’t really have any more profound ambitions.”
Sigh. Swarms of bigwigs, but nary a Bigfoot to be seen. I thought I might comment on that blog, but I could only come up with a single word to describe my thinking: chortle.
As is frequently the case, when I have got most of the way through one of my peevish online screeds, like this one, I am wondering if I am covering old ground. And of course I am, but then, those about whom I write do nothing but that. If only I had the strength to ignore them.
There is a saying, neither a platitude nor profound, just obvious: creativity lives on the border between order and chaos. The manner in which this may apply to what is written above is left as an exercise for the reader.
As for me, it’s nearly vaca time, and I think I’ll turn my writing to another book. To my avid reader: Ciao!